Many mainstream depictions of immigration at the United States’ southern border paint a dark picture, eliciting imagery of violent gang members and child trafficking. But how many undocumented immigrants are really involved in this kind of activity? Many people may be surprised to learn the answer is far fewer than they think.
A new study from the Peace and Conflict Neuroscience Lab (PCNL) at the Annenberg School for Communication found that Americans dramatically overestimate the number of migrants affiliated with gangs and children being trafficked, and that this overestimation contributes to dehumanization of migrants, to lack of empathy for their suffering, and to individuals’ views on immigration policy. In addition, the researchers developed and tested interventions to address this misinformation and increase empathy for undocumented immigrants.
“We noticed that false narratives about undocumented immigrants as criminals or as having criminal intentions are commonly circulated in the public,” says Samantha Moore-Berg, PCNL postdoctoral fellow and lead author of the study. “We were curious about the impact of these narratives on attitudes towards immigrants and immigration policy support, and whether by correcting these narratives, we are able to foster more positive attitudes towards immigrants.”
Study participants, on average, estimated that 15% of migrants at the southern border are affiliated with gangs and 25-35% of children at the southern border are being used as props by adults who are not their parents for immigration purposes. In reality, the Department of Homeland Security suspects approximately 1% of immigrants have gang connections and less than .1% of children are being trafficked.
The researchers found that participants’ erroneous beliefs about immigrants impacted their views on immigration policy and caused them to view immigrants with less empathy and to dehumanize them more.
Read more at Annenberg School for Communication.